‘Voluntary’ Pipeline Reporting Ratchets Up Alberta Fossil Oversight
The Alberta Energy Regulator, beset by evidence of a mounting backlog of unaddressed pollution hazards left behind by shuttered fossil fuel operations, has asked pipeline operators to tell it more about their preparations to deal with leaks and safety failures on their networks.
“Pipeline operating companies in Alberta are already required to develop and implement a documented [safety and loss management system] under AER regulations,” the industry news source JWN Energy reports. “However, until now operators weren’t required to share their specific plans with the regulator.”
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That is changing, sort of. Later this month, the AER “intends to send a self-assessment form to approximately 50 oil and gas pipeline licensees,” JWN states. “Companies will have six weeks [to] fill in the form, have it signed by a senior officer, and return[ed] to the AER.”
The companies targeted are not those operating main interprovincial pipelines, but smaller firms with local, often temporary networks of pipes collecting raw oil and gas from production sites for processing. Based on the form, the AER may decide to conduct a deeper review of a company’s plans for dealing with pipeline “safety and loss” incidents. While the agency can’t compel companies to submit the forms, it pointedly noted that failure to do so might in itself constitute a red flag that a further review is called for.
“We want to make sure they have effective systems in place to manage the risks of their pipelines,” AER spokesperson Jordan Fitzgerald told JWN.
The news outlet earlier noted that reported “pipeline incidents” occurred slightly more often than daily in Alberta in 2016. The 460 events—93% of which had “low to medium consequences in terms of public, wildlife, and environmental impacts”—were just slightly fewer than the 473 documented in 2015.
But aging and abandoned oil and gas infrastructure is a mounting headache for Alberta regulators.
“There are almost a half-million oil and gas wells, well over 400,000 kilometres of pipelines, and tens of thousands of [other] facilities that played a part in bringing wealth,” to the province, the National Observer recently observed in an article asking “who should pay” for their clean-up. “But Alberta’s conventional oil and gas industry has long been mature and now is well into terminal decline,” that outlet warned, “haunting the province with the spectre of cleaning up a hundred years’ poorly regulated mess.”
As The Mix reported in February, a single Calgary oil and gas producer, Lexin Resources, left 1,380 well sites, 201 pipeline licences, and 81 other facilities to be cleaned up by the province’s Orphan Well Association after being ordered to suspend operations for repeatedly violating operating standards. The industry-funded association managed to plug only 185 wells last year, despite a significant funding increase. At that rate, the OWA will be caught up on its backlog of more than 190,000 wells in about a millennium, the Pembina Institute observes.
But it’s not just dried-up conventional oil and gas wells coming back to haunt the province. Nine months after the AER presented tar sand/oil sand mine operators with a similar request for detailed disclosure on how they plan to rehabilitate lakes of toxic waste that now extend over 220 square kilometres and hold more than a cubic kilometre of contaminated water and sludge, the results are in—and not passing muster, the Calgary Herald reports.
The AER itself rejected the waste pond recovery plan submitted by the sector’s biggest operator, Suncor. More recently, a Pembina Institute review of six submitted plans found that not one met new provincial rules.
“All companies have submitted plans that are not consistent with Alberta’s tailings management framework,” said Pembina’s Jodi McNeill. “We expect the regulator to reject other deficient plans.”